Poisons helpline 131126


Glow sticks

Glow sticks and glow necklaces are very popular products. They contain a chemical called dibutyl phthalate, which is safe in small amounts, but can cause stinging and irritation on contact. Contact with the solution can occur if the plastic tube is chewed or punctured.

Eye exposure can cause severe irritation, with an immediate stinging or burning sensation and watering eyes. Skin contact can cause local irritation. Swallowing the solution can cause nausea and a burning sensation, especially of the lips and throat.

Effective first aid will minimise irritation. Seek medical advice if symptoms persist.

  • for eye exposure, irrigate the eye with running water for 10-15 minutes
  • for skin exposure, wash skin with soap and water
  • if ingested, rinse or wipe mouth, then sip a cool drink or suck ice to soothe.

Click here for further first aid advice.

Coins in Christmas pudding

All Australian decimal currency has a high copper content and may react with fruit acids in the Christmas pudding causing a green discolouration around the coins. The green discolouration is not particularly toxic, but is very bitter and may spoil the pudding. Pre-decimal currency does not produce this reaction, however, including coins or tokens in your Christmas Pudding is not recommended as there is a very real risk that someone may choke, inhale or swallow the coin.

Summer is spider season

Every summer the Queensland Poisons Information Centre has a big increase in calls for advice regarding people being bitten by spiders.

Be aware of the different types of spiders around your house and yard. Regularly check outdoor furniture, outside toys, playground equipment and pot plants for the presence of spiders or webs. Be especially cautious when lifting or moving outdoor items. Remove spiders that are likely to come into contact with people, especially children.

The Queensland Museum has a very interesting website on  Spiders in South East Queensland.

Box jellyfish

Box Jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) are found in the shallow warm waters north of the Tropic of Capricorn. They are present all year round but their numbers increase in the warmer months (October to April) especially after local rain and in calm seas. They are difficult to see in the water, with a box shaped hollow bell that is faintly blue and transparent. The tentacles may be up to 3m long but can be retracted to 5cm.

Stings can be fatal.

Stings are always immediately painful. Many long, whip-like lines with a ladder pattern may be seen. Intense swelling and redness occurs within 5 minutes. It may blister and leave permanent scarring.

Take notice of stinger warnings on beach signs. Swim only at patrolled beaches. For first aid of box jelly fish stings see marine creatures.

Cone shells

More than 70 species of cone shells are found in shallow warm waters around Australia, mainly on the Great Barrier Reef. They are popular among shell collectors, and some species are highly valued. However stings from a cone shell “harpoon” are potentially life-threatening. Educate children, shell collectors and tourists not to touch cone shells. Do not place live cone shells in pockets or bags touching the body as the harpoon can penetrate clothing.


Ciguatera is a form of food poisoning caused by eating warm water fish that carry the ciguatera toxin. The toxin is produced by a tiny organism that attaches itself to algae growing in warm reef areas. Small plant-eating fish eat the toxic algae and are in turn eaten by larger predatory fish.

Problems have been encountered with coral trout, spanish mackeral, red emperor, groper, reef cod, sturgeon fish, trevally and kingfish.

Ciguatera toxin does not affect the taste, appearance or odour of the fish. It is not destroyed by freezing or cooking.

Symptoms can include:

  • tingling and numbness in fingers, around lips, tongue, mouth and throat
  • burning sensation or pain on contact with cold water
  • joint and muscle pain, weakness, cramps
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps
  • headache, fatigue, fainting
  • extreme itchiness
  • difficulty breathing

Symptoms may last from days to weeks, and occasionally several months.

Seek medical attention at the first sign of symptoms. Treatment may involve rehydration with intravenous fluids. Intravenous mannitol has previously been used for relief of symptoms but a randomised controlled trial has shown no advantage over normal saline.

For further information contact your local public health unit (North Queensland, Central Queensland or Southern Queensland).

Food safety and handling

The risk of food poisoning is present year round but can increase during warmer weather. The risk can be virtually eliminated if food is stored, prepared and cooked correctly. For advice on food safety and handling: